August 29, 2017
Vicki Brooks Blog: Set-up nicely for our key September priorities
Mid-August and we have two key priorities – rape drilling and blackgrass control – both of which have been nicely set-up by the unsettled harvest weather. It may have been a pain for combining, but more than enough rain in the past month and up to 60mm in a day last week has been just right here.
With our 2017 crop living-up to expectations and delivering generally good outputs and margins, by mid-September we could well have a third more winter rape in the ground than last season. After all, there’s no wheat break crop to touch it in profitability just now.
An early cereal harvest and plenty of moisture in the drilling zone is really helping. It certainly doesn’t look like we’ll be facing another long, dry OSR establishment struggle like last year. Having said that, we aren’t taking any chances because we know just how rapidly conditions can change.
For the most part we’re sticking with the known quantity of the vigorous, fast-developing DK Exalte that stood us in good stead last season. Alongside it, Elgar is also proving popular and about a quarter of our 2018 crop will be Clearfield, mainly DK Imperial CL.
Limited cultivations have again been the order of the day to preserve the moisture we need in the top 1” or so of soil. Noticeably more of our crops are being Take-Off dressed to improve rooting and receiving a specialist OSR fertiliser supplying readily-available phosphate and boron alongside 30kg/ha of nitrogen.
While most of our crops should be safely in the ground by early September, I’m glad to say none have been drilled in the first two weeks of this month. So we shouldn’t have extra problems of cabbage root fly, excessive pre-winter growth, light leaf spot or frost susceptibility to deal with.
Careful slug control will, however, be particularly crucial. The damp summer means there are plenty of eggs in the ground. Surface moisture means early grazing pressure may be acute. And, of course, the new stewardship guidelines mean metaldehyde pellets should not fall within 10m of any field boundary. Ferric phosphate pellets are a viable alternative.
This autumn is also shaping-up to be just what we need for our continuing battle against black-grass. With decent soil moisture levels, we’re seeing stubbles greening-up within 10-14 days of post-harvest cultivation. But this mustn’t tempt us back into early wheat drilling.
Just as it is with OSR establishment, September is our make or break month for black-grass control. As well as getting the best black-grass chit to spray off ahead of drilling, we have to minimise the amount of seedlings coming through with the wheat. As Stow Longa work keeps on showing, this also means delaying drilling until we’re past the peak of weed emergence and moving as little soil as we can when we drill.
Mid-October drilling worked well for us last year. Although, as I mentioned last month, we saw a lot of difficult-to-deal-with late spring-germinating black-grass. Remaining below the canopy, this was relatively uncompetitive but it will mean more seed return than we’d like.
With this in mind, our focus is on setting-up the ground with a single primary cultivation after the harvest then leaving it to weather for as long as possible. That way, having sprayed it off with a no-compromise dose of glyphosate, we have the best chance of minimum disturbance October drilling. However, if the weather turns against us, we always have the option of a spring crop.